Dominic Pezzola was the third member of the far-right group to be sentenced this week. Among the first of the rioters to enter the Capitol, he was convicted of six felonies but acquitted of sedition.
Dominic Pezzola, center right, confronting Capitol Police officers after breaking into the building on Jan. 6, 2021.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Dominic Pezzola, the rank-and-file member of the Proud Boys who led the charge into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, by shattering a window with a stolen police riot shield, was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison.
The sentence imposed on Mr. Pezzola was the third to have been handed down this week to five members of the far-right group who were tried in May for seditious conspiracy and other crimes in one of the most significant prosecutions to have emerged from the Capitol attack. It was only half of the 20 years that the government had requested and less than the punishment meted out to several rioters found guilty of assaulting the police.
Mr. Pezzola, a flooring contractor from Rochester, N.Y., was the only one of the five men charged in the case who was found not guilty of sedition at the trial in Federal District Court in Washington. But the jury convicted him of six other felonies, including assaulting a police officer, a conspiracy to keep members of Congress from certifying the election and the destruction of one of the Capitol building’s windows.
Despite telling Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who has overseen the Proud Boys sedition case, that he was remorseful and had given up on politics, Mr. Pezzola raised his fist before he was removed from the courtroom and shouted, “Trump won!”
Video clips of the Jan. 6 attack showing Mr. Pezzola, with his scraggly beard and wild mane of hair, hammering at the glass with a plastic riot shield, were some of the most enduring images to have emerged from the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation of the riot. The videos were prominently featured not only at the trial, but also at public hearings by the House select committee that investigated Jan. 6.
Mr. Pezzola’s sentencing in the federal courthouse — which sits within sight of the Capitol building — came one day after Judge Kelly, a Trump appointee, imposed a 17-year term on Joseph Biggs, a former top lieutenant in the far-right group, and handed Zachary Rehl, who once ran the Proud Boys Philadelphia chapter, 15 years in prison.
Judge Kelly is scheduled to sentence Ethan Nordean, a fourth defendant in the case, on Friday afternoon. On Tuesday, at a fifth and final hearing, the judge is expected to decide on the punishment for Enrique Tarrio, the former chairman of the Proud Boys.
The government has long maintained that Mr. Pezzola was the most aggressive of the five men who went to trial in the conspiracy case, a point that prosecutors drove home on Friday.
“He was an enthusiastic foot soldier in that conspiracy,” Erik Kenerson, one of the prosecutors, told Judge Kelly. “And what transpired on Jan. 6 was the type of political violence that Mr. Pezzola signed up for the Proud Boys to partake in.”
After marching with about 200 other members of the group from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, Mr. Pezzola scuffled with a police officer in the crowd outside and made off with his plastic riot shield. He ultimately used that shield to smash a window at the building and rush inside with the first wave of rioters, taking a video of himself smoking what he described as a victory cigar.
The image of Mr. Pezzola breaking the window crystallized the entire attack on the Capitol, Mr. Kenerson went on.
“He was the literal poster boy of this conspiracy,” he said.
Steven Metcalf, Mr. Pezzola’s lawyer, agreed in part, admitting that his client became notorious weeks before Jan. 6 when The Washington Post placed a photograph of him on its front page after an earlier pro-Trump rally in Washington.
But Mr. Pezzola was not like the other Proud Boys with whom he had been charged, having joined the group weeks before the Capitol attack.
“This is a Proud Boys leadership trial,” Mr. Metcalf said, adding that to the high-ranking members of the group, Mr. Pezzola was “a nobody.”
Addressing the court, Mr. Pezzola apologized to his two daughters and to his longtime partner, Lisa Magee, saying, “I have broken this family and crushed your heart.”
He told Judge Kelly that he was “a changed and humbled man” who had taken responsibility for his actions on Jan. 6.
“At times, it feels like I live in an emotional black hole,” he said.
Then Ms. Magee spoke, detailing all the ways in which Mr. Pezzola’s case had harmed her and her family. Their daughters had lost friends, she said, and have suffered from harassment and depression. She had been unable to find work and became financially “destroyed.”
Judge Kelly responded by acknowledging that Mr. Pezzola was a relative newcomer to the Proud Boys and had been acquitted of seditious conspiracy — the most serious charge in the case.
But he also noted that Mr. Pezzola had smashed the window that let other rioters stream into the Capitol to threaten lawmakers as they were certifying the election.
“You really were in some ways the tip of the spear that allowed people to get into the Capitol,” he said.
While Mr. Tarrio and some of the other Proud Boys in the case were well-known figures — even celebrities — in right-wing circles long before Jan. 6, Mr. Pezzola was virtually unknown before he took part in the Capitol attack.
A former Marine and amateur boxer, he joined the Proud Boys in November 2020, after President Donald J. Trump lost the election. He wrote in a journal introduced as evidence during the trial that he viewed the political situation then as a “battle between good and evil,” requiring patriots to “stand up and take back our God-given liberties just like our Founders did.”
During the trial, Ms. Magee testified on Mr. Pezzola’s behalf, telling the jury that before the spread of the coronavirus, he was largely uninterested in politics. But during the pandemic, under the influence of Fox News and heavy drinking, he became “consumed” by the country’s deep divisions, she said.
In a bid to humanize himself, Mr. Pezzola also testified, telling jurors that he believed that the police had incited the violence at the Capitol and that his military training as an infantryman had simply kicked as he stood in the mob outside. But his time on the witness stand quickly turned disastrous as he lost his temper and lashed out at the prosecutors trying him, attacking them for conducting what he described as a “corrupt trial” marred by “fake charges.”
Like the proceedings on Thursday for Mr. Biggs and Mr. Rehl, Mr. Pezzola’s hearing dwelled on thorny issues surrounding what is known as a terrorism sentencing enhancement. Those provisions can be used to increase a defendant’s sentence if prosecutors can show that their actions were undertaken in an effort to influence “the conduct of government by intimidation and coercion.”
Judge Kelly said the enhancement technically applied to Mr. Pezzola’s case — as it did to those of Mr. Biggs and Mr. Rehl — though he has acknowledged that none of the Proud Boys engaged in typical acts of terrorism like blowing up buildings or attacking military installations.
As a legal matter, the enhancement in Mr. Pezzola’s case emerged from his conviction on charges of breaking the window and from his role in trampling a fence that allowed other rioters to surge forward.
That deeply frustrated his lawyer, Mr. Metcalf, who told Judge Kelly, “It’s just ridiculous that that property damage could bring us to this point.”